Title: The contradictory role of the sales assistant: superordination and subordination

Authors: Ann-Mari Sellerberg; Vesa Leppänen

Addresses: Department of Sociology, Lund University, Box 114, S-22100 Lund, Sweden ' Department of Sociology, Lund University, Box 114, S-22100 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: The social relationship between sales assistants and customers has often been described as relatively one-sided one in which sales assistants are subordinate to customers. One of the ways in which the subordination of sales assistants is manifested is when customers treat them badly, for instance in the form of verbal and physical abuse. We suggest that these power relations are not one-sided, but consist of both of the normative subordination that has been described in much of the previous research and of organisational superordination over customers. We also suggest that in many instances, difficult customer behaviour is triggered by this inherent contradiction in the role of sales assistants. When sales assistants perform superordinate actions, customers can respond by attempting to undermine the sales assistants' superordination and restore normative subordination. The empirical data consist of observations and interviews with employees of a large supermarket and two filling stations in southern Sweden.

Keywords: sales assistants; customers; irritation; interaction; subordination; organisational superordination; social relationships; power relations; customer behaviour; supermarkets; filling stations; Sweden; petrol stations.

DOI: 10.1504/IJWOE.2014.068040

International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, 2014 Vol.6 No.4, pp.352 - 368

Received: 08 May 2021
Accepted: 12 May 2021

Published online: 10 Mar 2015 *

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